It has been a busy and occasionally frustrating week working on various agency finance bills. Unfortunately, the theme of the week was imposing new taxes, cutting spending on the wrong programs and adding unfunded mandates. We have a lot of work to do yet to shape these bills into something more realistic. I will touch briefly on three bills we worked on this week.
The health and human services bill cuts nursing home funding $68 million, increases health care costs, and fails to take effective measures to prevent fraud in Minnesota’s childcare and other public programs.
It is disappointing to see the hard-won funding improvements we put in place over the past four years for our rural nursing homes put on the chopping block. I am not willing to accept this and will work hard to undo this unwarranted and unnecessary step backwards.
This bill increases K-12 spending by $900 million and shifts more than $400 million from current road and bridge funding to fund education. The bill also increases the funding disparity between metro schools and the rural schools in the rest of the state by 4 percent.
Despite an effort to remove it the bill includes a highly controversial provision mandating a new sexual education program modeled on material developed by Planned Parenthood. The material at best is not age-appropriate and some would deem the material highly objectionable.
I believe in properly funding education, however we should not be prescribing exactly what is taught in the classroom from St. Paul. We have teachers, school administrators, local school boards and most important parents that collectively should be making those decisions.
There is $3 billion in new taxes within this bill, which is part of a broader effort that would raise taxes on Minnesotans by over $12 billion when all the agency funding bills are considered.
One positive item, the bill includes a slight increase in the amount of social security retirement benefits that are deductible on one’s state income tax return. This builds on progress we made on this issue in prior years and moves us a little closer to what most states do, that is a 100% deduction of social security benefits from ones income tax return.
We are back at it next week with the goal of getting all the agency finance bills into conference committees by May 1. That will set us up to get the next state two year budget in place before our May 20 date of adjournment.